My 7 Must-have Cookbooks
Updated: Apr 25, 2020
One of my early university lecturers told me, if you want to be a good nutritionist, you have to have to become a passionate foodie. I quickly embraced this mantra, and my collection of cookbooks has been growing exponentially ever since. I am always on the hunt new ingredients and recipes that I can share with my family, friends and clients. Food is an integral part of our culture. It brings people together and can have a positive effect on our health and wellbeing. The point of this blog post is simple. I want to share with you a list of my favourite cookbooks. It's not a shortlist of books containing the healthiest recipes because, let's be honest, very few people make food choices based on how healthy a meal is. Yes, most of our meals need to be nutritious, but there are those special occasions where deliciousness trumps all else. Enjoy reading through my list. If you like the sound of these books, hunt a copy down from your local bookshop or library. If you think my list is missing some essentials, please comment and share with me some of your own must-have books for the kitchen.
1. The Silver Spoon The self-proclaimed bible of Italian cooking. The Silver Spoon was first published in the 1950s, and it contains more than 2,000 recipes from across Italy. As with most Italian food, the beauty of the recipes often stems from their simplicity and reliance on a small number of quality ingredients. My mum was mortified when I told her that I'd found the 'ultimate' spaghetti bolognese recipe in The Silver Spoon. "What do you mean you have found the ultimate recipe in this "book"? You always tell me that my bolognese was delicious." Sorry, mum, your recipe is truly incredible, but the recipe on page 61 of The Silver Spoon is the ultimate. Please forgive me.
This is not really a cookbook, but a fantastic resource to help you understand the different types of flavours ingredients bring to a dish, and which of those flavours work incredibly well together. It's an excellent book for those times in the kitchen when you don't want to bother following a recipe. Perhaps you might have a half a bunch of dill in the fridge, you think to yourself aside from Big Macs, what on earth goes with dill? Enter the food thesaurus and author Niki Segnit will remind you that oh of course! Dill goes with celery, beef and tuna. How could I forget that the dark roasted flavours of chocolate pair so beautifully with the smokey-saltiness of bacon...
A CSIRO book on a list of amazing cookbooks! I can hear every chef in the country scoffing at me now. In fact, I can hear my wife laughing at me too. The recipes in this book are designed to be healthy. Not one of the 400 dishes is unhealthy. Each recipe is quick and easy to make, consists of ingredients that can be found at any supermarket, are affordable and healthy. This book is a great go-to for parents, students, time-poor professionals, anyone who wants to whip up an easy meal that they know will improve their health, not destroy it. Our diets would be significantly enhanced if we cooked a few meals out of this book every week.
Yes, two of my top seven books are Niki Segnit specials. Niki has taught me a couple of things. Firstly, many of the best cookbooks don't have photos of food alongside the recipe. If you focus too much on what a dish is supposed to look like, you won't be paying enough attention to the flavour. And secondly, recipes are meant to be guides. You don't need to measure everything to the exact gram or millilitre. It doesn't matter if a recipe calls for a brown onion but only have a red onion, or spring onions. Recipes should be flexible enough for you to experiment and have fun with. Lateral Cooking is a book where the author wants to teach you how to cook, not just how to follow a recipe. Niki Segnit wants you to engage with your cooking and learn to cook. If you can make flatbreads, you can make crackers. And if you can make crackers, you pretty much know how to make fruit buns and panettone. It's not that hard.
Another bible that has a place in every Australian kitchen is Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion. This book is broken down into ingredients. It constitutes an exhaustive list of ingredients, including just about any food that you will find in an Australian kitchen or pantry. I love that Alexander includes a section on native Australian ingredients such as wattle-seed and kangaroo. These native foods are healthy, sustainable and incredibly under-utilised in Australian kitchens. For each ingredient, there is a range of storage and preparation tips, along with flavour combinations and recipes. It's a great go-to when you don't know what to do with the other half of that left-over dill in the fridge.
For those not acquainted with Paul West, he is a chef who hosted the Australian version of the TV series, River Cottage. Originally a chef from Tasmania, West spent four seasons of the program building a sustainable farm in NSW. He cooks some delicious meals using his farm's produce (or ingredients he has bartered from the Tilba locals). It's a modern Australian cookbook that blends old world CWA-esque recipes with what I would describe as wholesome, rustic, contemporary Australian comfort food. This is one of the most used books on my shelf.
If you enjoy cooking and don't have any professional training, this book will change your life. The nutritionist in me does cringe at times as Samin Nosrat indulged me in education on flavour. Her incredibly liberal use of salt at times can make your arteries harden slightly, from merely reading a few pages. For Nosrat, there are four essential elements of a balanced dish. Salt, Acid, Fat and Heat. One thing that you will learn from this book is that the reason that many healthy recipes are not the most delicious dishes is likely due to their lack of salt, fat and for the most part, heat. This book will make you realise that you haven't been tasting your food enough when you are cooking. How on earth are you going to know if the dish is perfectly seasoned if you don't regularly taste the dish throughout the cooking process? Aside from a little bit of science and thorough education in flavour, the second half of the book has a range of recipes to help you put theory into practice. Oh, and like most good cookbooks there are no photographs of food.